by Self-Expression Center Staff

The dictionary states that there are two definitions for the words present and presentation.  The first definition for present is to exist or occur in the moment; but the second definition is what intrigues me the most for both forms of the word – to bestow or give a gift.

How often do we actually give a presentation that is so cerebral and soulless that we know we have bored the socks off of all attendees?  Why do we do that when this is our opportunity to “shine” to give our gift to the audience?  Are we really giving them a “gift” bestowing them with the passion that fuels us, or just breezing through the speech trying to get out of the spotlight?  My guess for most of us is the later, just get me away from the central focus and let me slink back to my office. It was time to open presents and you do not have one to give!

I have had very few inspirational speakers come in to my life, those who choose to endow my spirt with what fueled their passions.  The most memorable came from the field of education.  My high school English teacher ignited my passion for analyzing literature with her wonderful southern drawl and her keen sense of wrapping us in to her love of the written word.  Never once did I catch myself feeling bored. Her words streamed into my being and filled me with knowledge.

My college biology professor was the most splendid speaker I have ever had the privilege of hearing.  This was biology 101, he had to feel so above teaching this group of let’s get credit for this class and move on freshmen.  However he took that semester with us and gave it all he had to convert us into science lovers.  He could make dissecting a cat and learning every body part therein stimulating and fun.  I never believed I could “love” science, but as they say “enthusiasm is catching”.    Both of these exceptional educators came to the stage daily and gave their audiences their “gifts”.

Imagine the affect that we could all have on the world if we could open up and present our gifts to our audiences.  Whether it be a meeting among your team, a presentation to a client or a speaking engagement, think about the results you could obtain from spreading your excitement to others

Learn to share your passion and fuel your audience with the master of “shining” Sandra Zimmer.  You may contact her via the website or by phoning 281-293-7070


Leaders Need Comfort in the Skin for Public Speaking

What is often misnamed as fear of public speaking is one of the best-kept secrets of corporate leaders. It is surprising how few leaders feel really comfortable speaking in public settings and being the center of attention. Much has been written about fear of public speaking, but what I think has not been clearly understood is that the problem is not about speaking.  Nor is it about lack of expertise or not knowing one’s subject matter.

The problem is more often that a leader does not feel comfortable in the skin when standing in front of others. There is something about standing up to speak in front of a group that unnerves people you would not expect to be unnerved.

Here is an illustrative story that one of my former clients told me in August 2014.

“Last night I was invited to a VIP dinner of some top (50 or so) tech execs (I was a substitute). It was a dinner banquet-type event with CEO’s and other senior executives from the area’s top firms.  In the beginning was the din of cocktail period with these apparent stars of industry clustered in each other’s knowing glow. I knew only a few of them, so I just chatted with one guy and otherwise kept to myself. But I had that feeling of being an outsider.  Later was an interesting thing. After we all sat in our reserved seats at our round tables, we each were asked to stand up one by one, holding a microphone, and introduce ourselves. Nearly everyone looked uncomfortable. The voices of two with high sounding titles actually warbled.”

Public speaking tends to shake us down into a common humanity.   Confidence and arrogance break down as even industry stars experience the tremors of what happens when they have not learned to be comfortable in their skin in front of groups.  In the case of the tech leaders in my client’s story, those guys knew their subjects well. They were undoubtedly brilliant at what they did.  But, faced with having to introduce themselves standing up with a microphone, their bodies filled with intensity and their voices trembled.

The missing ingredient is comfort in one’s skin – that is being comfortable being who one is in front of other human beings.  Because I experienced this problem to a great degree, I have made developing comfort in your skin the first level of my work in coaching or training people for public speaking and presentation skills. The ability to be comfortable in your skin is a subtle speaking skill that can’t be learned through traditional mechanical approaches to public speaking.

The following are seven subtle speaking abilities that produce comfort in your skin:

  1. Presence – Learn to establish a sense of presence in the moment and presence that holds the center of attention. Learning to ground your energies in your physical body goes a long way to developing comfort in your skin.
  2. Breathing deeply as you speak – Learning to feel your breath deeply in your body as you speak keeps you in this moment.
  3. Risking authenticity – Learn to give yourself permission to be genuine about your inner climate so you can release the pressure of pretending to be perfect. It is OK to say you are nervous and you want to do a good job for your audience.
  4. Contain emotional and psychophysical energies in your body as you speak – Learn to feel your feelings and inner sensations while speaking rather than running away from your feelings. Relax and allow the sensations rather than contracting to avoid them.
  5. Make real connection with listeners – Learn to see people as individuals in the group and to let yourself be seen by them so you establish a sense of we are here together rather than I am up here talking at you.
  6. Think on your feet – Learn to think your thoughts at the same time you are connecting with listeners and holding the space of attention.
  7. Confidence in yourself – Know exactly what you have to offer so you know your place in the group.

Leadership presentation skills training should start with these six subtle skills before requiring participants to speak. I somehow just knew this fact intuitively when I started teaching public speaking skills. When leaders learn these skills first, speaking in front of groups becomes easy and authentic, relaxed and comfortable, connected and compelling.

If you are an emerging leader or know an emerging leader who needs to develop his or her leadership presence in order to represent the organization and grow in a career, look for ways to develop these subtle skills.  If I can help you, reach out by phone or email. Find my contact information on my website.




Impeccable Diction – Dylan Thomas Reading Fern Hill

Diction is articulation of consonant sounds. Consonants make speech clear, crisp and intelligible. I am so grateful to Arthur Lessac of The Lessac Institute for the training in diction he gave me. I realize that my speech is very easy for listeners to understand because of the Lessac Method I know and teach.

Not many people in today’s world speak with impeccable diction, so when I hear good diction, I pay attention. Last week, while driving around town, listening to the local classical radio station, I heard a recording of Dylan Thomas reading his poem Fern Hill. This audio was recorded at Carnegie Hall’s 3rd floor recording studio in 1952.

Not only is Dylan Thomas’s voice arresting and dramatic, but his diction is impeccable! I have rarely heard someone who was not trained by Lessac speak with such perfect diction. Listen to this recording and take note how every consonant is articulated clearly. Notice you can understand every word as he reads.

While his style is overly dramatic for modern speech, his diction provides a great pronunciation lesson.  If you want to develop better diction, get a copy of the poem Fern Hill, listen a few times to Thomas read, and then practice reading aloud articulating the consonants as he does.

Dylan Thomas Reads Fern Hill

If you are a native English speaker who has been accused of mumbling, practice reading Fern Hill. If you are a non-native English speaker, do the same. If you’d like to learn better diction for clear speaking or for accent reduction, please reach out to me by phone or email.



Speaking Confidently LinkedIn Paper on Public Speaking

Dorothea Stuart, a communication coach and consultant from UK, is curating a great new public speaking Paper.Li called Speaking Confidently.

Dorothea is including articles, blog posts and videos centered around public speaking. Her contributors include the biggest names in the public speaking world like Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen, Nancy Duarte, Tom Antion, Tony Robbins, Lisa Braithwaite and many others including myself, Sandra Zimmer!

Speaking Confidently is an excellent resource for anyone interested in public speaking, presentation skills or thinking on your feet. It is so full of resources, you will need some time to peruse all the options. However, just a few minutes viewing is sure to give you inspiration for your next talk or presentation.
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A Gentle Confrontation Skill for Communication

Having a gentle confrontation communication skill allows us to feel a sense of power to influence other’s behaviors. This week I share a very valuable confrontation communication skill learned from my personal trainer JV.

During my training, two young men were using a body bar too close to the mirrored wall.  JV stopped them without hesitation.  Masterfully, JV directed these men to correct dangerous behavior and to act appropriately!

As the assistant manager in charge of training, JV is always on the lookout to keep people safe. He does not let people get away with inappropriate gym etiquette that might be unsafe, impolite or disturbing to others at the gym.

What I admired is that JV does not get angry. Instead he gently leans his body toward the person in a friendly manner and he softly says, “You are doing ___.” Or he says, “You should be doing ____.”

His communication confrontation skill is wonderful to watch when confronting someone. No one ever reacts badly to JV. Instead, they feel his connection, caring and charisma. They just say, “Oh, OK.”

His confrontation skill is a combination of four steps:

1. Leaning in with his shoulder first to get their attention.

2. Using a soft gentle voice with no anger or irritation.

3. Saying what they are doing or not doing.

4. Expecting them to be willing to change the behavior.

Confrontation as a communication skill should be in everyone’s communication toolkit. Next time you need to call someone on their actions, try JV’s skill of communicating gently.  It’s really empowering to know you can influence people’s behavior when needed.

I used to get angry and bristly when people were doing things I did not like. What I realized is that I was expecting them to not want to change. JV taught me that I can just as easily expect them to want to change.

For more guidance on communication skills such as confronting others, consider talking with me about a communication coaching project.  Together, we can create a set of communication skills that you need to succeed.


The 20 Most Popular TED Talks

TED Talks provide inspiration and great models for public speaking skills. TED recently shared the 20 most popular talks since TED began.

If you would like a summer project to inspire you to reach for the stars and to develop your public speaking skills, watch all 20 of these, one per day.

If you undertake this project, look for these things:

  1. How does the speaker make you feel?
  2. How does the speaker use stories to illustrate and enlighten?
  3. What is the speech structure used to build the talk?
  4. What is the moment that thrills you?
  5. What is the message you receive?
  6. How can you use your own story and content to craft a similar talk?

Click Here to go to the TED page that contains all 20 Talks.


Watch the 20 most popular TED Talks now.

The thing that all these speakers have in common is a sense of authenticity. Each one has developed a style that is genuine, natural and authentic. More than anything, that is what connects with audiences.

If you would like to develop your own TED-style talk or just want to learn to be comfortable speaking to groups, consider private coaching or joining one of my Group Speaking – Fast Track Programs. Whatever your speaking goals, I can help you develop an authentic style of speaking, based on being who you are rather than who you think you should be as a speaker. You can learn to shine as brightly as these 20 TED speakers!

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Steps for Practicing to Reduce or Modify an Accent

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I have been coaching non-native speakers of English to improve their pronunciation for almost four decades.  I was trained by Arthur Lessac in the Lessac Method of Voice and Diction.  Thanks to Arthur’s fine training and method, I can quickly and easily identify the sounds of English that non-native speakers need to learn.  It’s also easy for me to teach non-native speakers how to pronounce those sounds in just a few minutes.  Very quickly, my clients learn the mechanics of using their teeth, tongue and lips to form the sounds they need to “reduce” their accents.

Here’s the hard part.  Non-native speakers must not only learn to pronounce the sounds of English, they must integrate those sounds into their speech.  They must be able to use those sounds when speaking English in their daily conversations. It takes regular practice to actually integrate the sounds into their speech.  It also takes considerable time to develop the muscle memory needed for correct pronunciation to feel natural.

My job is first to identify the sounds a particular client needs to learn to modify or reduce his accent and then to teach him to make those sounds. The client’s job is to 1) practice making the sounds, 2) articulate those sounds in words, sentences and reading material, and 3) to integrate them into daily spoken speech.

Here are some steps for learning, practicing and integrating sounds of English into daily speech:

  1. Practice only one sound at a time. Concentrate your attention on one sound that will make your speech clearer. Give plenty of time to that one sound, perhaps a week, even two weeks.
  2. Practice making the sound alone to create muscle memory. Repeat a series of that sound several ways -slowly, fast, in sets of three, with eyes open, eyes closed, sitting, standing and walking. Feel the action of your teeth, tongue and lips as they work to make the sound.
  3. Practice words that have the sound at the beginning, middle and end. Create lists of words that contain that sound. Say your list aloud daily.
  4. Listen to a talk radio station for words that have the sound and repeat the words as you hear them spoken on the radio.
  5. Practice reading new material aloud every day. Read to make sure you are articulating the sound you are focusing on.
  6. When you are speaking, notice how that sound starts to happen more often in your speech. When you can use that sound most of the time when speaking, select another sound and start the process again.

This simple set of steps will gradually transform your speech to be more clear and understandable. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is all you need to improve your pronunciation. Why not start now?

If you think you might want help to modify your accent, reduce your accent or achieve clearer pronunciation, I’d be pleased to speak with you personally. Visit this page for details.  Click here to request a complimentary coaching call so we can talk about your goals and situation and determine if my program is right for you.


How Pronouncing Consonant Sounds Clearly Makes a Non-Native English Speaker Easier to Understand

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Learning to pronounce consonant sounds is vital to mastering clear, crisp, intelligible speech. This translates into meaningful spoken communication that is easily understood. Pronouncing consonant sounds clearly makes every word you articulate more precise. This in turn makes your overall message more readily understood by your audience, whether it is a small group or large gathering.

Consonant Sounds are Robust.

Consonant sounds are well-defined. They provide rhythm and percussion to speech. Their robust nature tends to soften your accent. Rather than be distracted by this accent, your audience is more attentive to the message you are presenting. With their robust nature, consonant sounds tend to add definition and emphasis to the important aspects of your communication which makes your overall presentation more easily understood.

Pronouncing consonant sounds with purpose tends to make you pay closer attention to your words so that you slow your speech slightly. This small change in your verbal presentations helps hold your audience’s attention and enhances the general understanding of your message.

Consonant Sounds Give Definition for Easier Understanding.

Consonant sounds are vital for correct articulation of any word. Consonant sounds are generally consistent which makes them the foundation for most words. When you articulate consonant sounds within a word correctly, that word is universally understood which makes your entire communication more effective.

Additionally, when a word ends in a consonant sound and you clearly pronounce that ending, your overall speech has greater definition and quality.

Take a Step Toward Minimizing Your Accent.

Self-Expression Center offers several accent reduction and accent modification opportunities for your convenience:

  • Customized Accent Reduction or Accent Modification Programs for Individuals.

Individual coaching generally consists of 8 one-hour private sessions. Ten to fifteen specific sounds of English that the foreign-born professional is not pronouncing correctly are identified and addressed. The student learns how to articulate those sounds. Sessions may be taken one hour per week or one hour every two weeks to allow the student to practice and integrate new sounds into daily speech. Sessions may also be completed by telephone or by Skype from anywhere in the world.

Customized Accent Reduction or Accent Modification Programs for Small Groups.
Group classes for individuals are offered in small groups of 4 to 6 participants at Self-Expression Center. Participants learn to pronounce the sounds of English that help them be more easily understood when speaking English. For example Asians typically need to learn the consonant sounds of L, R, V, W, N, NG and TH and certain neutral vowels that Americanize their pronunciation. Sandra teaches participants to use their teeth, tongue and lips to form these sounds correctly. They practice in words, sentences, reading aloud. They also practice to integrate the sounds into their daily speech. Group classes are offered for 4 Fridays during lunch time.

If you would like to organize a small group of 4-6 colleagues from your company, organization, or friends, Sandra can tailor a 4 session program specifically customized for your group.

Customized Accent Reduction or Accent Modification Programs for Corporate Groups.
Group classes for corporate employees can be developed to suit the needs of the organization. Groups are most effective when limited to a maximum of 8 people. Sandra identifies the sounds of English that participants are not pronouncing correctly. She teaches participants proper articulation which is positioning of tongue, teeth, and lips, for correct pronunciation. Industry specific terms are used for practicing correct pronunciation.

Make Your Choice for Self Improvement Now. Call 281-293-7070 to request a free twenty-minute accent reduction consultation.


Accent Reduction: Why Pronouncing Consonants is More Important than Pronouncing Vowels

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There is no fast and easy way to reduce or modify an accent. If you are going to learn to reduce your accent, it is going to take considerable time and effort to practice.

OK, now I have said it! I don’t mean to discourage you, but I do mean to help you be realistic about reducing your accent.

With that out of the way, I’ll share what I believe to be the most productive and time-effective way to tackle accent reduction or accent modification.

To begin, clarify your goal. The goal should not be to get rid of your accent.  It should be to speak English clearly so people can understand you easily when you speak English with your native accent.

If your goal is to have people understand you, you can limit the amount of time and work needed to achieve the result that is really important – clear articulation leading to intelligibility.

To achieve this more realistic goal, focus on learning to pronounce consonant sounds rather than vowel sounds. Here’s why:

Consonant sounds make speech clear, crisp and intelligible, meaning they make your speech easier to understand. Consonants are easier to learn than vowels. There is usually only one way to pronounce each consonant sound. Once you learn to position your teeth, tongue and lips for a consonant sound, you can insert it into any word and be fairly accurate.

Vowels, on the other hand, are more complicated. In English there is not a single standard for pronouncing each vowel. The “a” letter can be pronounced as many as 6 different ways. That makes learning vowel pronunciation very challenging.

Vowels can also vary in English pronunciation and still be acceptable. Each region of the US pronounces the vowels a little differently. So, a slight mispronunciation of a vowel from non-natives is not much of a problem. Our ears are willing to adjust to hearing the “i” in ‘him” mispronounced as an “e” like ‘heem.” While it is not correct Standard American pronunciation, it does not bother us much.

For all these reasons, the most valuable use of your practice time for reducing an accent is to focus on pronouncing consonant sounds.

My approach to helping a non-native professional speak English clearly is to identify the set of consonant sounds that will make the most difference to his or her speech. I have found that most people only need to learn a few consonants to be more easily understood. Chinese natives, for instance, often only need to learn to pronounce the sounds of N, NG, L, R, TH, V and W. Articulating these few sounds when speaking English makes a remarkable difference in their being understood.

If you are a non-native professional who needs to improve pronunciation, have someone with a trained ear listen to you speak.  Ask them to tell you which consonant sounds you are missing or mispronouncing. Learn to articulate those consonants and then integrate them into your daily speech.

In another post, I will share how I coach clients to practice pronunciation skills.

Below is a 5 minute video of me speaking about my Speaking English Clearly Program.

Sandra’s Video on Accent Reduction Coaching


Accent Reduction: Freedom of Speech for Non-Native Speakers of English

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People from all over the world come to the US because of the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy in our country. Freedom of speech is among our most cherished and valuable rights which draw ambitious and educated people to our nation.

Houston, Texas is truly a melting pot for professionals especially in the oil and gas, energy, medical and technology industries. Any meeting at one of the companies in these industries will look like a United Nations conclave. You will see professionals from India, China, Viet Nam, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Russia and Iraq sitting at the table doing business in English. Many of them will have PhD behind their names.

The global brainpower in Houston is exciting and inspiring. However, there is a struggle that many of these brilliant people face every day. Many of them struggle to be understood easily when they speak English.

Because they are smart people, they speak and understand English well enough. Many learned English in grade school in their native countries. Yet, they often don’t know how to pronounce the sounds of English correctly; and, as a result, their accents sometimes cause their speech to be difficult to understand. A too heavy accent poses a real problem for non-native professionals, their employers and clients. As experts, they need to be understood when sharing their expertise. If not, they lose effectiveness and may even lose confidence in their expertise.

The solution for this challenge is only one thing – learning to speak English clearly.  Whether you call it accent reduction, accent modification, diction for foreign-born professionals or proper pronunciation of English, the solution is for non-native speakers to learn how to pronounce enough of the sounds of English correctly so that they can be easily understood when they speak English.

For over three decades, I have been helping non-native professionals learn to speak English clearly. I am not a teacher of English grammar, ESL or vocabulary. I am a voice and diction coach. I simply teach people to articulate the sounds of English that they don’t know how to pronounce. I fell into accent reduction coaching without realizing that was what I was doing. I will tell my story in another blog post, so you can see where my ideas about this area of speech originated.

For now, let me just say that mispronunciation creates a kind of fear about speaking that I help resolve. When non-native professionals feel free to share their ideas, insights and expertise while speaking English with their native accents, the world will benefit. In the coming blog posts, I will share some of my ideas and approaches to help non-native professionals speak English clearly without having to lose their accent.